Agile Retrospectives Anti-Patterns

During our XP2011 tutorial, Pat and me facilitated a fishbowl, followed by a brainwriting exercise.

Because we needed a subject we could all relate to, we decided to discuss retrospective anti-patterns during the fishbowl.

I recorded each anti-pattern that was mentioned, so we could use them later during the brainwriting exercise.

After the tutorial, Claudia Melo asked me if I could share the results of the brainwriting exercise.  Because it is physically impossible for me to say no to a Brazilian woman, I summarized the results in this blog post.

Each Anti-Pattern has multiple to suggestions to counter it.  Because not all reflect my personal opinion, I have added my own suggestions in blue.

1. People are only whining

  • Use questions that focus on “area’s to improve”, not “what went wrong”.
  • Focus on concrete things, not general ones.
  • Try to look for solutions (action points) instead of looking for reasons.
  • Use exercises to find the root cause.
  • Ask whiner: “How would you solve it? What can we do about it?”.
  • Try to use tracking.
  • Future! We!

2. Hurry – Time pressure – Let’s get it over with!

  • Try to get senior management support.
  • Prioritize important subjects other than just delivery of value.
  • Search for quality.
  • Focused time-boxed activities like “brainwriting” and “time-boxed fishbowl”.
  • Prioritize instead of plan.
  • Learn how to say “No” to managers.
  • Get an external facilitator or try to coach the internal facilitator.
  • Try to schedule retrospective like a normal task, maybe?

3. No preparation

  • Reserve time-boxed slot the day before to do the preparation.
  • Give responsibility of preparation to each team member.
  • Assign responsibilities to each person.
  • Make them want to be prepared => they should feel that their opinion is important and problems are being fixed.
  • Create a board with the iteration days and ask people to put issues up as soon as they notice them.
  • Give the facilitator some time to prepare and offer help.

4. Actions not part of the next sprint

  • Include them as a part of a sprint (at least the ones which are most important to the team) no matter what.
  • Reserve time-boxed slot of the team to decide what to do with them.
  • Make them regular tasks with people responsible for.
  • Check if they have been done during the next retrospective.
  • They should feel free to solve appropriate actions.
  • Put documentation from retrospective on display => create a board and put the issues there as ‘tasks’ (as kanban).

5. Two Person discussion

  • Define a time-box to limit these discussions.
  • Brutally break discussion: “some other stuff?”
  • Use different dynamics.
  • Split and join groups
    • Small groups work on questions.
    • Whole group discusses together.
  • in general: more structured activities.
  • Work as a group on the two different opinions and work towards a shared solution.

6. Dismiss other people’s ideas

  • Make it a rule to suggest improvements when dismissing someone else’s idea.
  • Generate ideas without discussing.
  • Vote the different ideas of a discussion.
  • Repeat the purpose and rules at the beginning of each retrospective.
  • Raise it as an issue and work as a group to gain insight of the consequences.
  • Try to find the root cause of the discussion.
  • Let them see the consequences of dismissing other people’s ideas by asking questions.

7. Skipping retrospectives

  • Do some dynamics to have fun (and useful).
  • Ask them what they don’t like about retrospectives, what makes them not wanting to attend.
  • Create a group tradition of happy-hour after a (time-boxed) retrospective.
  • Make sure the team is empowered to take on the decided actions.
  • Do a team building exercise.
  • Keep it interesting by introducing new exercises and making sure improvements get follow-up.

8. Not checking results

  • Change facilitator.
  • Make results visible on charts, etc.
  • Assign an owner to each action item.
  • Agree with the facilitator to check results in each retrospective.
  • Put decided actions in a visible colorful place.

I really enjoyed the workshop and the enthusiasm of all participants!  Like in a good retrospective, it felt like we all contributed and learned from each other.

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.


  1. Nice collection Nick, well done.

    One comment though for the first point (People are only whining). Based on my experience, when you don’t let people whining during the retrospective, they’ll do it outside the retrospective, which isn’t good, and more importantly they won’t co-operate 😦

    If I know that the team likes whining by nature, I let them do it in a timebox. One can find improvements there as well.

    • Zsolt,
      thanks for the comment!
      I agree. Sometimes getting things off your chest can provide insights and improvements.
      What the attendees of the session meant was retrospectives with a negative vibe,
      where not even a search for improvements takes place, just complaining.
      A general feeling of wasting your time, because nothing changes and no actions are defined

  2. Claudia Melo

    Hei, Nick, thanks for the post 🙂 I really enjoyed the brainwriting exercise! It is an effective way to get people involved in the retrospective, especially because everybody try to create solutions to the problems iteratively. I’ve tried many other techniques before (not only in the agile field), but in this session I got surprised how solutions are creative and different from each other.

    • Claudia,

      Indeed, it is a really effective and fun exercise.
      Although you work individually during the brainwriting,
      the discussion about the recordings afterwards is equally important.

      Thanks for the comment!

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    Reblogged this on janzeteachesit.

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